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Terry Waite visited St Katharines in October

A Testimony of Chains

“ Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” Philippians 1:12-26

Poor St Paul. One only has to read the book of Acts and a few of his letters to see how much he suffered in his ministry for Jesus. Beaten with rods, thrown off a cliff (twice), shipwrecked, and in his later life, after various assaults and attacks, left a prisoner in chains for the sake of preaching the gospel. Yet it is because of his afflictions and suffering for the gospel that so much wonder and power comes from his testimony about Jesus; this is a man who has truly walked the walk with Christ.

There is something powerful about suffering for Christ and testimony of it. On the evening of the 9th October, we heard another testimony from another man who, like Paul, had spent years in chains. That man was Terry Waite.

I was fortunate, from where I was sat during the evening, to be able to observe not just Terry but the whole audience as well. I watched as Terry spoke and saw nearly everyone present was utterly transfixed as he spoke, with some visibly leaning forward on their seats. You could have heard a pin drop as he spoke.

During the evening, as Terry recounted his experience of imprisonment most of which was blindfolded in complete darkness chained to a wall, he said that he was never someone who wore his faith on his sleeve, but instead had a humble and quiet faith. Those words really struck me, as although he may not see himself as an evangelist or preacher, his faith during captivity was something that shone out, and spoke out more powerfully than a hundred sermons. Here was a man who had been forced to live out his faith in circumstances most of us can only dread would ever happen. Throughout the experience he was an Ambassador for Christ, and his simple quiet faith sustained him at times and through torture that I suspect would have broken many people. What, I wonder, is it that makes his testimony so powerful that it moved a number of the audience to tears, and I suspect in Paul’s time had the same effect on those reading and hearing his letters? There is truly something that stirs the soul when one hears of enduring faith while imprisoned.

Perhaps, and it is only my own opinion, it is the fact that people like Terry Waite and Paul have literally walked in the footsteps of the suffering Christ, carrying his cross to Calvary. They have had to face first-hand the realities of extreme physical and mental torture and suffering, and had only their faith and belief in God to sustain them, comforted by the knowledge that God is not distant or far off, but there with them. They have endured their time of imprisonment in the knowledge that the Lord they worship has been where they are, felt what they felt, and endured what they endured.

One of the things that shone through, was how without a bible, or any kind of religious books, Terry’s resolve was strengthened by recalling from his memories familiar texts he had learnt as a child in church. Passages of the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, readings from Sunday School, the regularly recited prayers of the Church. These texts proved not dry, boring and irrelevant as some claim today, but alive, vibrant and full of the story of God. Another group of Christians who have suffered more than most is the Copt’s, and it is the same passion for their liturgy of worship which, like our own, is full of texts straight from the Bible that has sustained them. Their liturgy is largely unchanged in 1750 years, and still today you will see people in worship moved, uplifted and inspired as they recite not dry old words but life changing, life sustaining truths. The story of God, played out in our worship.

Of the 160 or so people present listening to Terry, I am sure there will be many who were inspired by this large yet gentle man’s testimony, one filled with grace and humility, and also strength and tenacity. To see him standing with Fr Botros, an Egyptian Coptic Priest who himself has experienced vicious persecution, reminded us all that we live in a world where acting out our faith, whether it from being a hostage negotiator or priest, or any kind of ministry where we represent the risen Christ, is one that can lead to suffering for the sake of Jesus. And yet like Paul, there is something about their testimonies that just inspires and energises us when we hear it. Terry himself said that good had come from his suffering, that his story had encouraged others in their faith, and even in the darkness, God turned that in to light.

I pray that none of us are ever faced with experiencing the suffering of St Paul, Terry Waite, or Father Botros, but am only too aware that if we are to truly follow Christ, then if called to we must pick up our cross and endure what may lie ahead. If that means suffering for his name, for his sake, then it is something we must all be prepared to do. My own prayer, is should I ever find myself in that situation, is that I will be able to demonstrate the same grace, integrity, humility and faith that these three Christians have shown us. In the meantime, let us pray and do all we can for those held in captivity as hostages, or who are persecuted for loving and bearing the name of Jesus.

Fr Kevin

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